Broken City

London is notoriously diverse and ever-evolving. Photographer Alec McLeish captured the contrasting moods in the boroughs of Belgravia and Camberwell on Sony's RX1.

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Photography by Alec McLeish captured with Sony RX1

Life is getting harder. Rents are increasing as wages and benefits get capped and the majority of people struggle to stay afloat. But as the survival instinct kicks in, so does a new wave of creativity; as proven in the work of photographer, Alec McLeish. He points his lens on the people reclaiming Britain’s streets, from skaters, to self-proclaimed, backstreet entrepreneurs.

McLeish took the following series of photographs in the London boroughs of Camberwell and Belgravia. Stood at two opposing ends of the economic spectrum, the two locations provide a wealth of oddities that perfectly sum up Britain’s complex and contradictory capital city. In order to capture scenes from the lives of every day people, McLeish shot on the new Sony RX1, the most advanced compact camera in the Sony range, with a fixed 35mm F2 lens to make it powerful, fast and discrete.

We spoke to McLeish about the series and to find out more about his unique understanding of what it means to live in London today.

DD: How do you select subjects to photograph?

Alec McLeish: I don't really select anyone. I try to avoid obvious places like bus stops and markets and shopping centres. I stick to back roads or estates. I don't like lots of action in the background of my images, and often these areas are quiet, the things people are doing are a lot more personal, which is where the interest lies.

DD: What do the areas of Belgravia and Camberwell represent to you?

Alec McLeish: I used to live in Camberwell for about five years, and it has a huge mix of people who just get along with each other. You can be friends with the guy in the shop, and then you can see him down at the pool or wherever. It seems way more laid back and communal than some other areas.

Belgravia doesn’t mean anything to me. For some reason, it makes me feel like I am constantly trespassing. Someone thought I was taking pictures of a house in order to go back and rob the place, that wouldn't happen in Camberwell.

DD: What do you make of ‘class tourists’ - upper middle-class kids, mimicking what they perceive to be a working class lifestyle?

Alec McLeish: I think it's fine as long as you’re not a polo player from Berkshire trying to be a rudeboy from Brixton. In London there's all sorts of different people side by side, you can find some really beautiful streets right behind a gnarly estate, so of course things are going to mash together. 

When my parents moved here, what I pay in rent, they paid as a deposit to buy a house.

DD: There’s been much said in the news recently about how unaffordable London is now. How does this make you feel?

Alec McLeish: It’s really depressing, everything is over priced, and there is a massive gap between wages and expenses. When my parents moved here, what I pay in rent, they paid as a deposit to buy a house.

DD: Contradiction seems to be at the heart of your photographs. Can you explain why this idea interests you?

Alec McLeish: I think it’s partly my sense of humour, I found it fascinating that people on Kings Road and around Belgravia would just walk into shops with their dogs. But it could also be a way of pointing out how an area can change. Like the Stella McCartney sign under the block of flats: it shows how an area can become gentrified.

DD: In Camberwell the subjects appear to be interacting with their environment; whereas in Belgravia, they appear to be observing their surroundings. Why do you think that is?

Alec McLeish: I think it could be that whilst both areas are mainly residential, there is a lot more to do outside in Camberwell, I don't feel it’s as built up, even though it has massive tower blocks, they create a lot of open space, which people can use; whereas in Belgravia, the streets, and roads are more formal, and there’s a lot less open space. 

DD: How do you feel the cultural landscape in London is changing?

Alec McLeish: I think a lot more money is being pumped into areas and a lot of areas are becoming increasingly gentrified. I grew up around Dalston and the changes that have happened over a really short period of time are incredible. I mean, the same thing’s starting to happen in Peckham, and then maybe it will creep into to Camberwell. It's not like these areas lacked anything before though, I think it's just a case of people moving in and trying to open them up to more people. 

Sony's RX1 is a professional level, DSLR quality camera packed into a compact body for a camera you can take anywhere. Check out the full frame here.

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